Read a Summary of this paper.


A Spreadsheet has many valuable features that facilitate one-time projects and ad-hoc reporting. Spreadsheets are wonderful, they allow us to calculate, analyze, sort and print data for a wide-variety of applications. We don’t have to wait for anyone to help. And, we can do exactly what we want, in exactly the way we want. But…

We have all suffered trying to find the cell that went bad – the formula that changed or deleted itself. It is as difficult to inspect a spreadsheet to know it is actually producing the correct answer, as it is to find an error; that fact alone is frightening. Any cell with an accessible formula can become the next problem and most cell formulas are open to careless data entry or data manipulation errors.

Range formulas are great. Imagine =A1+A2+A3… for 50 or so rows! Sum(A1:A50) is a great time saver. But what about next year when there are 52 rows? or 47? Each change is an opportunity to introduce an error.

We have all struggled with sorting, copying and pasting only to find we missed a few columns and lost the connection between those overlooked columns and the ones we sorted. Just hope you notice this problem before saving and leaving that spreadsheet.

Speaking of sorting, filtering, adding titles & dates, and selecting a range, this is the standard procedure for producing and printing a spreadsheet report. Sure, macros can be used but these add another level of complexity for a guy who wants to grow crops, not sit inside and master the subtleties of a spreadsheet.

Scaling up seems easy. We set up a model that works great for 30 rows and it checks out. Now put in 200 plantings of data. Woops, now it is harder to see and check. It becomes worse when we add a new sheet or two. Referencing cells from another sheet adds yet more complexity and more opportunities for a mistake. Mistakes can be too many or too few seeds or trays, plants starting too early or too late, or crops expected on July 30th (it said so!) but won’t be ready for another two weeks! Mistakes can be rows of crops missed, because some spreadsheet rows weren’t in the range specified. Yes, expanding a spreadsheet to keep up with your farm can quickly become unwieldy.

Here is a detailed comparison of the perils of spreadsheets and how an integrated database is better at addressing these aspects while providing an operational system for market farming.

Biggest Problem of All – Value You Get For Time Spent

The biggest problem is the lost opportunity. When you consider the scope of farm operations, scheduling is an important but small part of the whole.

Yes, you can sort and print out some pages and have task lists. And you can add a blank column to enter where you actually planted each crop, or how much you harvested, and even capture a few notes.

But this information is probably just as well recorded in your journal, where other facts and observations can be collected as well. So really a spreadsheet for scheduling is just that, your initial crop schedule and maybe a few static lists that need to be updated by pencil and notes.

The problem is that you have spent all that time and effort to create a static paper schedule! You are left without a system to help improve customer service, reduce waste and increase profits this year and next. Now you need to collect and organize all the important data from your operations during the season in other systems – your crop  journal, notes here and there, and maybe your bookkeeping system. A lot of this information is redundant and having information in two places increases time to cross reference and maintain – spreadsheets become Islands of Automation.

This is the biggest problem with spreadsheets – you get too little for your time invested.

Scheduling Is Just the Beginning – What About Integration with Related Processes?

The reason spreadsheets can’t expand to an operational system is that they are just files of data you can access directly and functionality to manipulate that data. Spreadsheets are limited because they don’t have a relational database, a logic procedural processor or an advanced report writer. These capabilities are critical to a comprehensive operational system.

  1. A relational database provides data entry editing, minimizes redundant data, maintains relationships between files, executes triggered procedures to maintain data integrity, provides security and access controls for multi-user systems.
  2. A logic procedural processor incorporates an advanced computer language that allows all sorts of logic and processing to be easily and confidently developed.
  3. An advanced report writer greatly reduces the time necessary to develop complex reporting logic, allows for user entry of parameters and provided a variety of formatting tools to enhance readability and understanding.

With these capabilities, scheduling is just the beginning of what can be done. First, you get a system that is much easier to maintain and not vulnerable to having its formulas and data corrupted. And then you can get additional functionality that uses the data already entered for scheduling. Here are some of the major functions Farm Produce Manager offers:

  1. Easily adjust your schedules, starting from the date the crop is started, the date the crop is put into the field, or the date you want to harvest the crop. Plus you can easily adjust the days in trays or field without changing your crop master information.
  2. Task lists that are integrated with the schedule – update your schedule and the appropriate task is also updated.
  3. Record Keeping that utilizes the system’s ability to capture and process transactions, allows you to provide updates each time you have information about a crop, with all the details such as the crop name, its succession, date and time captured automatically.
  4. CSA share management allows you to enter share details, aggregate them and use delivery requirements as an input to planning crops and later to be sure you have enough planned harvests to meet all your commitments.
  5. Resource management allows you to automatically connect resources needed, such as machinery, manpower, money, and materials or whatever is important to your growing process, to each crop as they are scheduled.
  6. Wide variety of reports and Gantt charts to see what needs to be done and what has been done. Plus you can export data to analyze and report to your heart’s content – this is indeed the best use of a spreadsheet.
  7. Cost information that can be entered, reported and exported.

Finally, because Farm Produce Manager is delivered via cloud technology and it has been designed to work on a variety of platforms you get some additional benefits, including:

  1. A system that is backed up automatically in a secure data center.
  2. The ability to expand your operations from 10 to 1000 plantings and hardly notice the difference.
  3. The ability to access your system, display your data, make updates and keep records from any device that can access the internet, such as a smart phone or tablet.

We need an integrated solution to provide up-to-date plans and schedules, comprehensive record keeping and a variety of market farming operational capabilities, to better plan, execute and control farm operations, to improve customer service and reduce waste, labor and administrative time, while collecting the data to perform better in the future.

The bottom line is that crop scheduling is necessary for modern farming, but it is not by itself sufficient for optimal performance; to deliver a more comprehensive solution, an integrated, relational database system is needed.

Learn more about Farm Produce Manager’s Integrated System [to Islands automation page].

Or watch a short video [need overview video] on how an integrated system saves you time and helps you do a better job on the farm.

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